Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A weekend in jail?

Members of the Screen Australia Board
Screen Australia
Level 4, 150 William St
Woolloomooloo 2011

11th Dec 2012

Dear Board Members

Those of you who are not practicing filmmakers may not be aware of just how profound the ramifications are of being banned by Screen Australia. It is the equivalent, in many ways, of being disbarred as a lawyer, struck off as a doctor or shunned by an entire community of your peers in whatever your profession happens to be. What producer, director or any other film person dependent in large part on the good will of Screen Australia (a category that includes most filmmakers) wants to be associated with a filmmaker who has been banned by the Screen Australia Board on the grounds that he has placed Screen Australia staff at risk? If such shunning occurs because a filmmaker has placed Screen Australia staff at risk, because he has intimidated staff, a ban is entirely appropriate and he has only himself to blame. However, as you all know, I have not placed anyone at risk, have not intimidated anyone. That these charges are baseless is borne out by the refusal of Ruth Harley’s and yourselves, as Board members, to provide either myself or the film community with one shred of evidence that I am guilty as charged. Imagine, any  and all of you, if allegations of this kind were made about you in a way that damaged your reputation and made it impossible for you to work in your chosen field; the field you had been working in for 40 years. What would you do to see that justice prevailed? What would you not do?

Just as no-one at Screen Australia is allowed to view my 35 minute pilot for CHANTI’S WORLD, (self-funded for 17 years) or read the accompanying documents, because doing so would place them at some kind of risk (!), nor has anyone at Screen Australia been allowed to read the first draft of my screenplay for SHIPS IN THE NIGHT. To do so would, in accordance with Ruth Harley logic, place them also at risk! At risk of what, I ask for the umpteenth time? Why do you refuse to answer this question? How can the Board accuse a filmmaker of placing staff ‘at risk’, find him guilty as charged and ban him as a result of placing staff ‘at risk’ and not identify what the nature of the ‘risk’ is?

Is our industry so awash with great screenplays that Screen Australia can, on Ruth Harley’s  whim, exclude an experienced screenwriter from the pool of possible screenwriters to support? SHIPS IN THE NIGHT might be a poorly written screenplay, it may not have, in the opinion of Screen Australia, an identifiable audience or the potential to make a contribution of any value to Australian film culture. Fair enough, but how can Screen Australia make any judgement at all in relation to such questions unless someone within the organization reads the screenplay and the accompanying notes? If anyone at Screen Australia had been prepared to place themselves ‘at risk’ and assess my application they would have read the following regarding SHIPS:

Director

At what point does a director become involved in a project such as this? Ideally, as soon as possible. However, the director has to be the right one for the film and this is a matter for the writer, producer  and the director to decide. And it is a decision that necessitates a meeting of minds and a sharing of  sensibilities. Once the right director has been found, once a final draft has been prepared that producer, writer and director agree on, the project is the director’s baby – the writer and producer’s job being to support the director in the way s/he wishes to make the film.

Co-Producer

I will eventually acquire a co-producer for SHIPS. This is someone whom I and the director agree  would be the right person for this particular project. Needless to say this would be someone who loved the project, had faith in both the screenplay and director and has talents in the loaves and fishes  department!

At the time I wrote this I did have a director in mind. A talented director. Someone who I felt (wearing my producer’s hat) was ideally suited to the project. She was interested but unable to commit at the time. I did not expect her to commit. The screenplay was still a first draft only, a work in progress. Since I was banned, seven months ago now, this director has not responded to my emails. I can hardly blame her. In an industry such as ours, with Screen Australia run as it is by Ruth Harley, associating her name with mine in any way could be detrimental to her career. For all I know she may well believe that I am the sort of person who places others ‘at risk’ (a proposition that has been ratified by yourselves) and wants nothing to do with me. I can hardly blame her.

The same applies with HONOUR – a project that I had hoped to find an appropriate female director for. Ideally I would have liked to find a director whose cultural and religious background would have made it possible for her to complement my own screenwriting skills. As I wrote in the notes attached to my Oct application to Screen Australia with HONOUR:

Possibly the biggest challenge for a male writer old enough to be Jasmin’s grandfather is to imagine myself into the persona of a 18 year old lesbian Muslim and see the world through her eyes; to feel it with her heart. A challenge to be sure but such challenges are what make screenwriting (indeed any fiction writing) exciting.

Again, whether HONOUR has the potential to be a great screenplay is not for me to decide but surely the decision to either support or not support a project such as this should be made on the quality of the screenwriting and not on the basis of the patently absurd proposition that any member of Screen Australia’s staff who read and assessed it would be ‘at risk’. That the Screen Australia Board endorses this proposition is the single most astounding experience I have had in my entire film career of bureaucratic process divorced from reality!

On Friday 14th Dec I will arrive in the foyer of Screen Australia’s Sydney office in the hope that I will either (a) be provided with evidence of my having intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff or (b) have the opportunity to speak with members of the Screen Australia Board about the ban you have placed on me. The Board may choose to do neither of these but to either (1) give Ruth Harley permission to call the police again and have me arrested during business hours or (2) sit on its hands pretending that a decision to call the police has nothing to do with it and carry on with the Board meeting as though nothing unusual or untoward has happened as the police lead me from the building and place me in a paddy wagon. If arrested again I will, in all likelihood, spend the weekend in jail. A dreadful waste of my time and energy and, in all likelihood, yielding the same result as my arrest a few weeks ago – namely dismissal by a magistrate as not being worthy of his or her attention.

Regardless of the outcome of the court case of 20th Dec I will return in the new year to sit in the foyer again, in hopes that I will, the fourth time around, be provided with evidence of my crimes. If not, I will, I imagine, be arrested again. And so it will go until the Board provides me with the evidence I have been asking for for seven months now: Who have I placed ‘at risk’, how have I placed them ‘at risk’ and when have I placed them ‘at risk’. At some point the number of my arrests for the crime of asking to be provided with this evidence will reach such a level of absurdity that it will attract the kind of attention that will make the Screen Australia Board look very foolish – even if it does, belatedly, find some evidence that it can trot out to defend itself.

best wishes

James Ricketson

8 comments:

  1. The evidence is now incontrovertible, Ricketson. You are a nutter.

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    1. I think I know which of the anonymous contributors to this blog this is and again I ask you, Ms Anonymous, what you would do if you were in my position? To which you have replied before, "I would not find myself in your position." Does this mean that you would simply accept being branded as the kind of person who places members of Screen Australia staff at risk without kicking up a fuss? If not, at which point along the way would you NOT have placed yourself in my position?

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  2. The ethical position that the filmmakers on the Board must take is unambiguously clear: Richard, Claudia and Rachel must insist that the Board supply Ricketson with evidence that he has placed Screen Australia personnel at risk or resign in protest. It is untenable that they can allow any filmmaker to be banned in this way without providing him with concrete evidence that his correspondence is as Ruth Harley describes it.

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    1. QUESTION # 1: Would Ruth Harley be able to retain her position as Chief Executive if the Board lifted the ban on Ricketson - thereby acknowledging that Harley had lied about his having placed SA staff at risk?

      QUESTION # 2: Would Glen Boreham be able to retain his position as Chair of the Board if he now voted to lift a ban that he knew or should have known should not have been imposed in the first place?

      QUESTION # 3: Do Richard Keddie, Claudia Karvan and Rachel Perkins have projects being considered for funding, on the recommendation of Ruth Harley, by the Screen Australia Board in the near future?

      QUESTION # 4:How much funding, in $ terms, has Rachel Perkins received from Screen Australia, recommended by Ruth Harley, whilst a member of the Screen Australia Board?

      QUESTION #5: Is it possible to ask question # 4 without being accused of being sexist and/or racist?

      QUESTION # 6: Why, given that they are asked often in private by filmmakers, are questions such as these not asked in public?

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    2. You've hit the nail right on the head 'Answers Please'. The filmmaker members of the Board are dependent on Harley and her team to get their projects voted on by the Board and Harley is dependent on the Board not to ask her to produce evidence of Ricketson's crimes. A perfect circle. If the maintenance of it requires that Ricketson swings in the breeze, that's unfortunate but you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs!

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  3. Reluctantly AnonymousDecember 11, 2012 at 7:52 PM

    James, SHIPS IN THE NIGHT is not the kind of film that interests me much but this is a matter of taste. It is, however, well written. Congratulations. I had no trouble turning pages - always a good sign. As for the 'ethical position' mentioned above I think it is much too late now for the Screen Australia Board to adopt anything that resembles an ethical position. It has painted itself into a corner and can only hope that you will eventually get sick of being arrested and give up. I wrote two comments for Encore the first time you were arrested but neither was published. Good luck and watch your back in jail!

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  4. As you wrote once Ricketson, some months ago, Dr Harley is to Screen Australia what Jonathan Sheir was to the ABC. We can only hope that she meets the same fate as Sheir. The same applies for the Board. What a gutless lot they are not to stand up to Harley and insist that she give you some examples of who you have intimidated and placed at risk with your correspondence. Like 'Reluctantly Anonymous' I too had my contribution to the conversation after your first arrest censored by Encore - now a gutted and gutless organ devoted to publishing press releases.

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  5. I'll quite happily stand by my Jonathan Sheir comment seven months drown the track from my banning and still with no answers in sight.

    From the outset of this dispute I have been aware that the details of my dispute are of little interest to anyone but myself. However, by far the most popular of my blog entries is WHY IS MY COMPLAINT ABNOUT SCREEN AUSTRALIA OF INTEREST TO ANYONE BUT MYSELF (http://jamesricketson.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/why-is-my-complaint-about-screen.html.) Yes, there are those who think I am a ‘nutter’ for pursuing this in the way that I am but judging by the now 17,000 page visits I have had since this dispute began I suspect that this dispute is not without interest to my fellow filmmakers. They have been able to see, first hand, just how lacking in transparency and accountability Screen Australia is and will wonder, I suspect, just how this lack of transparency and accountability affects all of the decisions Screen Australia makes.

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